usual for me. From my location in our old limestone house, I began to overhear
and comprehend scattered portions of conversation occurring between Wenda and
“Happy anniversary Dad!”
I knew then it was once again the 31st of July. Sixty
five years had slipped into history since the wedding of Wenda’s parents; which
was one year before I was born.
The core gist of the exchange was the issue of what were we to
do to recognize and celebrate this event. The questions inevitably evolved:
“should anything be done at all? Was there anything left to celebrate? Were we
simply endeavouring to revive something well beyond any hope of reviving? At the
end of the day, for whom and what real reason was there to
This early morning exchange was much more poignant and at a
deeper level than it was only a year ago. This July 31st demarcation
brought into conscious focus one more difference in a journey of endless
differences. The passage of time brings the fact that things change over the
course of a lifetime into a sharpened reality that leads to contemplation. What
we contemplated this year was that, Wenda’s Mom would not be able to leave the
assisted living residence; another of those unpleasant “firsts.”
Alzheimer’s disease had essentially eroded all definition of
awareness of time and place in eight short years. The physical shell remained –
though greatly reduced and withered – but all other identity markers had been
erased. No matter how gently or aggressively the probing, or how much a response
was desired, nothing was to be resurrected – not a flash, a hint, or shadow of
the real, vibrant person that once was. In fact the last few visits had been
nothing less than cruel and disastrous.
Regressed to a previous time, driven by a single frantic
obsession to get home and nurse her ailing mother, who departed this life more
than 30 years ago, there was no hope of settling her or bringing her to any
semblance of rest. Hour upon hour she shuffled through the long shiny corridors,
in and out of rooms, violently yanking on closet doors; searching here,
searching there for a recognizable moment in the far distant past.
Her tormented journey was all in a swirl of muttered passion: “I must get
home to mother.” Once she entered that zone, the only reasonable action was to walk away leaving her behind the locked door and seek solace, comfort and support for your own soul with the
thought: “Perhaps next time…..” Yet more than once the tears glistening on my
wife’s soft face betrayed the “blustering confidence” of ‘Perhaps next time’.
Those close to and around her just knew the far more real thought was, ‘Will
there even be a next time?’
But it’s July 31st, and the arrival of the 65th anniversary day brought with it the demand that the “next time” be decided.
Wenda’s Mom could not come to where we were but we insisted that
this damnable disease and her present condition would not keep us from going to
her. This decision was made in part, I think, out of sheer teeth gritting and
fist shaking defiance of the disease.
It was now 4:15 PM and with eighty dollars worth of delicious
food in tow we arrived in front of the residence. Keying in the door code and
entering, Darline and Gramps would make the ride to the fifth floor. Wenda and I
would set a “proper table” – a table fit for a 65th Wedding Anniversary celebration.
A “proper table” required a location other than the general
dining hall. The perfect spot was a round table (very family friendly) in a well
windowed corner of the room. This was not a dark corner where things hide. It
was filled from floor to ceiling with the light of the setting sun. As it was,
we were the only occupants.
The great feast was readied: meals in place, chairs positioned
and a seemingly breathless, eternal wait. Wenda and I did not hear the fitful
stopping of the old elevator that consistently squeaks, squawks, moans and
groans in some kind of low key, aging protest of its function. We did not hear
the clanging of its door that is bereft of all grace in its clumsy and awkward
opening. With every trip on this piece of equipment I am left with the feeling
that it is sending a message to anyone listening: “I never wanted to be an
elevator. I am nauseated with the constant ups & downs of my life – endless
motion that never graduates me beyond present structure. Would you kindly exit
and quit pushing my buttons.”
Suddenly, the shuffle of slipper shod feet, the sounds of
familiar voices and there was the happy trio: Wenda’s parents and our daughter.
If there was to be an expectation, if at all, what should the expectation be?
It was not mere imagination or a circumstance born from a
desperate hope of a response. There was a definite light in her countenance,
light we thought had been extinguished forever. The windowed sunset light
enhanced a slow smile upon seeing Wenda. Then there was “magic”, pure, unbridled
magic: the clear articulation, “Oh, I love you. You are my daughter.” I think we
all at that moment allowed ourselves to dare believe there had indeed been a
“next time” and the present reality proved our partaking in it.
For the next hour and a half, seated at the round table, it was
almost like old times. There was no deception in our own hearts when compared to
the hellish, nightmarish and diabolical bleakness of what the last several
visits had been. This in fact, closely resembled the older days of normalcy within the confines of our unique family dynamic. We breathed it in, absorbed it, held it close to our hearts and thought thanksgiving toward our God.
Last year Grammy was able to recall and rattle off with ease the
family blessing over the meal. The unavoidable reality of this disease caused
one to wonder, “How would it be this year?” Given the progressive nature of the
disease we knew it would be different, even on this July 31st. Wenda
had to put the words of the blessing in Grammy’s mouth. But, so what! She
repeated them and that much was a joy.
Surprises seemed to randomly drop out of the blue. In the
un-orchestrated family chatter of soft words and gentle phrases, the voice of my
mother-in-law suddenly rose above it all and as if making a Sunday morning
declaration during testimony time she emphatically stated: “Our God is a good
God, isn’t He?”
In wide gaping, wondrous amazement, three sets of jaws dropped,
and three mouths fell wide-open. Our individual gazes bounced around the table
from one to another with the silent question, “Did we just hear correctly?”
Knowing full well we had. There was total agreement that our God is good and we
were experiencing that goodness. If you are wondering about the fourth “set of
jaws” – well, Grampy is about 90% deaf.
The pleasant food on the round family table was disappearing.
Cameras were flashing. Grampy was spitting out in rapid-fire fashion sixty five
years of memories in a voice loud enough that he could hear – which, of course,
put it way over the top for healthy ears. His idea seemed if he could just speak
loudly enough, his words would penetrate deeply to evoke their memories in her.
Those memories he needed to believe were not vanquished to some long lost region
of her brain that was beyond recovery – some nether land from which there can be
no return .
Suddenly another moment of magic: Grammy peered across the round
table, lit up with a smile and with excellent clarity of voice said, “Why,
that’s Dale. Well if anyone tries to hurt him they will have to come through
me.” My pride says that I made such a profound, wonderful, meaningful and
favourable impression upon my mother-in-law that not even Alzheimer’s could
expunge it; however, in the magic of the moment, it was pleasant and that’s all
that really mattered.
Wenda spares no expense or effort when it comes to special
occasion cards, and this special anniversary was no exception. Grampy read the
card and held it for Grammy to see. She “authoritatively” removed it from his
hands, looked it over and even read a few of the words. Seeing the envelope, she
attempted to place the card in it. It was not easy for her. Grampy
in his always ready to “fix” things mode swept it away. If looks could kill,
Grampy would be in glory today.
Wenda’s Mom turned her eyes toward her, sighed deeply, and with
obvious impatience and disgust began muttering in a low voice: “And a one, and a
two, and a three...” The round table rang with laughter. Grampy heard none of it
but laughed as if he had.
As the end of the meal approached, it became evident that this
monster called Alzheimer’s disease has not wrought its final destruction. My
mother-in-law has loved sweets forever. She endures the front end of meals while
living for the “last hurrah” –desert of any kind and in any form; hot, cold,
warm, soft, hard-- doesn’t matter.
Her gaze was now locked upon a substantial swath of bright
yellow lemon pie topped with a “snowdrift” of white meringue. Her tiny hand
instinctively reached for the spoon and all we heard was, “Yum! Yum!” The Lloyds
and the Harts (including Grammy) laughed like giddy fools.
Shortly thereafter, with the fullness of the meal and the magic
of the moment fading, her eyes began to droop, her head began to lean.
We disturbed the old elevator yet again, took a short ride, and
passed beyond the locked door on floor five. But there was yet one more
manifestation of this good God of ours. Leaving has never been easy or smooth.
She always pushes to come with us in search of her mother, ending with feelings
of deep frustration and aggressive anger. We stagger our leaving her in stages;
first one then another. I am always the last to
It may be a small thing but when caught in the experience of
this nasty disease, small things take on huge significance. We all have the
maturity to “handle it”; however, it nonetheless seemed such a shame that this
three hour visit of celebration, and true magical, grace-filled wonder would
come to an end with the usual aggravation and agitation. Historically it did so
nearly without exception, always accompanying our leaving her “until the next
time.” Why should this otherwise warm, wonderful, beautiful and amazing memory now be tainted with this “testy confrontation”?
She sat in a big chair. One by one we passed by her and shared a
hug and a kiss. We all moved away simultaneously with no aggression,
frustration, anger or even a passing mention of mother. Crammed in the open
doorway we turned to look. She lifted her left arm and waved. Each of our souls
just kind of rested with a final, “WOW!”
Will there be a “next time” – a 66th anniversary?
Will it be as good as this time? Only a Sovereign God knows who in His infinite
wisdom, grace, mercy and kindness gave us “this time.”
Walking through the experience of Alzheimer’s or any other
wasting, debilitating disease deeply affects the soul. It causes one to see God
where one had not experienced Him before. It’s not that we bring Him to a
particular place and make Him present there, but we discover Him working in the
present details; in which, otherwise, we would always be oblivious. This keen
awareness of discovery causes one to become overwhelmingly grateful for every
moment such as these and takes nothing for granted. Every flash and every hint
of redemption and promised restoration is carefully noted even if it’s just a
Until the “next time” then.......